Uneasy

This short story was written for the Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers challenge, which invites writers to interact with one another through weekly photo prompts. My word count for this piece is at 175. Enjoy!


J. S. Brand.jpg
Credit: J. S. Brand

With each step I take, my feelings of unease seem to triple. I’ve walked this path a thousand times before, rushed through its thickets and meadows, but something’s different now. As I tread its familiar stones, my hairs stand on end and my hands grow pale and clammy.

It’s not the feeling of being watched – that’s an inaccurate clique – it’s the feeling of something being not quite right. The birds aren’t singing like they’re meant to, and the crickets and grasshoppers are strangely silent. It’s almost as if the animals have been hushed quiet by some silent, unknowable force.

I reach the top of the hill and look forward, heart racing. There’s something lying across my path, dark and unfamiliar. I want to run, but my legs no longer seem capable. Then, staring hard at the shadow, a jolt of realisation shoots through me. I didn’t recognise it at first because someone’s cut off its antlers, but, there it is. The king of the forest – a white stag – the bullet wound shining in its chest.


Click the blue froggy for more interpretations of this prompt!

Solo Shadow

Continuing on from my recent themes of animals and hunt scenes, I wrote this story for the weekly prompt competition at Ad Hoc Fiction. This week, my word was “solo” and my word count is at exactly 150. Enjoy!


He glides through the air, his powerful wings allowing him to swoop low over the ground as he scans the night. All he needs is the slightest movement – the snap of a twig or unnatural rustle of leaves – and he will dive to the floor in a desperate flurry of feathers. It doesn’t take much. The unwary rodent puts one foot wrong, and the game will be up.

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September 2016

He swoops lower: did that leaf just twitch because of the wind, or because of something else? He focusses in, and spots a vole scurrying from one bush to the next.

He dives.

The vole is plucked up by his fierce talons, just as his wings begin to beat furiously, attempting to carry him upwards. He looks down to see another vole looking up at him. It squeaks at the sight and scurries away, now a solo shadow racing into the darkness.

Hesitation

Hesitation
Photo prompt 04/07/17. Credit: Kecia Spartin

This short story was written for the Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers Challenge, which invites writers to interact with one another through weekly photo prompts.

My word count for this piece is at 175. Enjoy!


He doesn’t see me. He flexes his neck as he preens himself, but still he doesn’t see. It’s almost cruel, plucking him from the world without the slightest bit of notice. I want him to turn around; even if it is just the tiniest glimpse, I want him to see.

It’ll be too late, of course; even if he does see, it’s too late. He’s mine.

It shouldn’t matter, I think to myself. If anything, this is better; he’s stupid. He’s not being careful, so, in a way, it’s his own fault. I’m an innocent, just trying to survive, and he – well if he really cared, he’d be more careful.

I’m being careful. I’m looking all about myself, even now. The world’s too dangerous not to, but apparently nobody ever told him that. I stick my tongue out into the air, feeling along the leaves. I can taste him; I can taste his feathers and sharp little beak that will desperately squeak as he tries to escape.

Should have been more careful, then.

I strike.

Hesitation 2
21/05/15

 

Hunted #writephoto

I recently discovered a weekly photo prompt competition run by Sue Vincent. She provides excellent “Thursday” challenges for writers to have a go at. This week, I was keen to give the prompt my best attempt, as the photo (depicted below) deeply inspired me. There was no word-limit to this piece, so I just wrote to my heart’s content and ended up at a word count of 781. I hope you enjoy my short story!


I sit in silence. All it will take is the slightest spasm of an aching limb, or an untimely itch that I simply must scratch. I breathe deeply, slowing down my heart rate as I try to make as little noise as possible.

He’s still there, watching me. I can’t see him, but that doesn’t really mean anything. I know he’s there, because he’s always there. He’s always waiting for that one fatal mistake that I know one day will be my undoing. He doesn’t know where I am and I don’t know where he is; that’s the game. Because it is a game: it’s an endless game of dice rolling, where neither party has any control of the outcomes. The only issue is, if I lose, I don’t just lose a day’s pay or my dignity. The price is my life, and his reward is his.

Rabbi
June, 2017.

I can feel that itch now. It’s in my right leg. I want to look down and check that there’s not some horrible insect sucking at my blood, but I can’t. Even when I’m being eaten alive, I can’t move, and I can’t make a noise. All I wish for, is to hear the tell-tale rustle of leaves and snapping of leaves that tell me he’s leaving. He won’t go far, but he will move far enough that my window of escape will open, and I will run, and, as the dice are flung into the air, I will race for my life.

The itch is getting worse. How I want to scratch it, but there can’t be long to wait now; he’ll be tiring, too. He’ll feel an itch, and his muscles will buckle under the pressure. Soon. I try to calm myself down. I’m breathing too rapidly. I can’t let my own fear be the ruin of me, not when so many are depending on me. I soothe myself, closing my eyes and letting out a long breath.

It happens in an instant. Just as a sharp, jarring pain cuts across my leg from the itch, I hear the sudden rustling to my left that tells me my hunter is giving up. Too late. I gasp out in horror from the pain in my leg, and then it is too late and I am running.

I dart out from my hiding place, a clump of densely-growing leaves, and flee into the open meadows beyond. He’s still right behind me, rampaging through the undergrowth as he reaches for me. He is close: too close. There isn’t going to be enough time. He is meant to be further behind. I speed up, putting all my remaining energy into my legs. My right one is still stinging painfully, and I can feel a suspiciously warm substance trickling down it that I have a horrible feeling might be blood. I don’t have time for this, not for injury. The smell of blood will only drive my hunter on faster.

Birds
Photo prompt provided by Sue Vincent.

I duck back under the cover of trees: a detour. It’s risky, and it might cost me, but it’s also my only option, to confuse my companion into letting me keep my life. I dart around tree trunks and leap over uneven ground, always rushing and never slowing. This is it, a little voice whispers from the back of my head. You’re going to die today. You’re going to lose the game. I can almost feel his hot breath on the back of my neck, and almost sense his harsh, sharp teeth snapping at my injured leg. You’re too late, the voice whispers.

I stop running. I stand stock still, but in this single instant, time seems to slow right down. I don’t think of my hunter, storming towards me, desperate to sink his teeth into me. I think of my tiny, little home, tucked away under the trees barely two metres from where I stand now. I could make it, of course I could. But I can’t. Under those trees, four little babies lie all snuggled together, their eyes bright and innocent, and their mouths hungry, desperate for the food that only I can bring them.

They will have to go hungry tonight, but they are old enough by now. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right, but they are going to have to feed themselves from now on. It’s better to risk that, whispers the voice, rather than to lead this monster right to them. Right to your babies. You can’t do that. You can’t kill them.

So, I listen to the voice. I don’t move, because I can’t move. I don’t feel angry. Everyone loses sometimes; everyone must lose. I don’t mind. I’m ready.

My Jar of Flies

This piece of creative writing is for the purposes of the competition at Ad Hoc Fiction. With only 150 words and this week’s prompt word, “jar”, this competition gives its winner free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction Award, which promises a prize of £1000! 

I keep a jar of flies at my bedside.

I’ve had it for as long as I can remember, watching them fly and buzz as they crawl over each other in their desperate need to escape.

I don’t hurt them, after all, prodding them or poking them, like some corrupted child.

I only watch them.

I think.

I think how I am not a fly, and how lucky I am.

No one helps a fly.

No one cares.

I like watching my jar of flies. Whenever I am scared or put down, I just stare.

I’m okay, because I am not a fly.

People care.

I am not a fly.

The Truth Hurts

The Ad Hoc Fiction competition offers a weekly £1000 prize for just 150 words entered. If nothing else, this gives a person the extra incentive to write just about anything that comes to their mind, once they are provided with a single “prompt” word. This week, the word was “stamp”, and so I took it upon myself to enter a short piece of my writing. It’s not a story exactly, if only because I find it too difficult to create entire worlds and characters in 150 words, but it was something that I enjoyed doing, as all writing is. In fact, this is a much condensed version of my short story “The Victims”, available on the post previous to this one.

We danced all night. Our feet ached and our throats grew hoarse from the singing and the shouting, but we didn’t care. By the warmth of the fire and the feast surrounding us, we were able to truly relax in what seemed like a millenia. There was no more pressure; there was no more fear of the unknown. We were together, with food and warmth, and we were going to be okay.

Stamp.

The little boy danced on the ants’ nest that had congregated about the end of an old cigarette. He laughed to himself, watching them scatter as he continued to squash them underneath his weight. He didn’t care about ants. It wasn’t as if they had feelings, or even thoughts, after all. They were nothing, and now they were dead.

The Victims

This is a short story I wrote several years back, it’s quite shaky in places, but was inspired from thoughts about the suppression of minorities. Clearly, this is still a very real issue.

It was getting closer. There had once been days when people could leave their homes without constantly glancing over their shoulders, or throwing every stranger terrified looks. They had had nothing to fear then, but that had been in a different world. Now people had no choice but to accept their own fears as they came to reality. The city wasn’t safe; no city was safe. They were on the losing side of an eternal war.

The once colourful, well cared for houses that boarded the streets were now crumbling and falling into disrepair, dirt and grime snaking up their walls. The labyrinthine roads and passageways that separated the city were now almost completely inaccessible. Even the atmosphere in the city seemed somehow empty, its desolate quiet ringing louder than any sound ever could.

Despite everything, though, the city was far from empty. People sat crouched together in their rather dilapidated houses, holding hands and singing songs. They would not lose faith, for they had already accepted what was to come. They told stories to each other of how their great city had begun; of how the workers of the world had once breathed life into the empty bareness of the Earth. They would laugh and they would cry, for every single person, adult or child, rich or poor, knew:

It was the end.

Nala sighed quite suddenly. Yawning, she turned away from the open window and blinked her way out of her reverie. People die, she thought bitterly. That’s just the harsh reality of life. They die, and whoever’s left just have to deal with it.

Languid, she allowed her heavy eyelids to drop down shut over her wide eyes. Then, as she breathed out a long sigh, she pressed down her fingertips onto her closed eyes, until finally she saw colours that she no longer recognised. They didn’t belong in her broken world, but they were hope of another, far better one. Electric blues zigzagged through the air, punctuating a cascading rainfall of golden light; turquoises darted and flashed as they merged into the vivid scarlet; and even yellow was thrown into the mass: meteors of fire that burned across the sky.

Nala opened her eyes again. There was a noise coming through the open window, disturbing her fantasy. For a moment, she stood in silence, listening. Then, without warning, she leapt out of the window and dropped down into the street below. She knew that sound well, for it was the only sound that had the power to chill blood and petrify children: a scream.

Nala raced along dirt track after dirt track, her heart humming an incoherent beat in her chest. She was getting closer to the noise now, and it was breaking up, until there were two screams, and then three. A moment later, Nala could hear it for what it really was: a screeching cacophony of pained shouts that ripped into her heart even as she raced onwards. A shivering panic was creeping down Nala’s spine now. What if something had happened? What if someone had been hurt? She whirled around the corner in a haze of colour…and stopped.

The world stopped, too. Everything was over now. It was too late for prayers; too late for promises. They were doomed. For there, in the distance, but coming ever nearer, like a writhing serpent reading itself for the pounce, was the flood.

A great tower of merciless, bubbling water reared over the city, casting a gigantic shadow of dread and despair over them all. Nala opened her mouth to allow her own scream to join those hundreds around her, but, almost instantly, she was wrapped in a tight circle of her mother’s arms.

“Calm down, Nala. It’s just like I always told you. Every place has it’s time, and every kingdom, no matter how great, must one day fall.” Nala swallowed hard, gazing up into the penetrating eyes that she knew so well. “I love you,” her mother whispered, hugging her tighter, and, as she did so, Nala felt her mother’s bracelet dig into her side. She could remember gazing at its blue pearls as a child, jealous. It had been a parting gift from Nala’s father, and her mother had sworn that she would never take it off, for that would mean that she would be separated from him, and that was simply more than she could bear.

The screams all around them suddenly stopped, a quiet more eerie than anything yet. Before she could even comprehend it, ice cold water swept over Nala’s head, knocking her mother away. There was a great swelling sensation, and then she was moving, her head still underwater, but moving, faster than ever before. The suffocating onslaught of furious water dragged her through the cold, pushing her still further beneath its surface.

She wanted to scream; she wanted to yell, but she couldn’t even breathe. Wrapped in the embrace of the furious waters, she was going to die; right now. She just knew it. Churning currents battered her in every direction, as if they had some kind of jurisdiction over her very being. Nala opened her mouth and choked almost instantly. She was going to die…any moment now, she was going to drown!

Just as suddenly as it had started, the great swelling stopped, and Nala was ejected from the hungry waters, left shivering and coughing on dry land. Barely conscious, her raw skin stinging in the harsh hair, Nala rolled over.

She kept her eyes firmly shut, sure that she was dead, and sent up a prayer to whatever God there may be. She opened her eyes.

Light pierced through her irises like a veil had just been removed from her face. A kind of brightness like she had never known before was suddenly surrounding her on every side.

She was above ground.

For her entire life, she had lived in the city: a city that was beneath the Earth’s surface. Those many years ago, when the workers had set about making the foundations of their home, they had decided to make it far beneath the sun’s reach, so that its inhabitants would always be safe, secure and…hidden, from all those who sought to destroy them. Now though, as Nala sat up and gazed skyward, she smiled. She had no right doing so given her current situation, but she couldn’t help it! How she wished that her people held the position in this terrible war to always stand in the sun, but she knew that it was impossible; the outside world was teeming with their enemies.

Nala turned slowly and began to walk towards a small hill built into the earthy ground, intending to search for a way back to the city – or what would be left of it after its people and buildings had been so mutilated.  She heaved herself over the hill, and then looked down.

A devastating scene met here newly opened eyes. Water seeped from holes in the ground, holes in which she recognised as roads that had once led into the city. It was completely flooded; her home was lost. A cold swept over Nala, cooling her just as effectively as the icy water itself. There were bodies in the water. Their faces were twisted and barely recognisable, but Nala still knew them. She’d known everyone in the city, even these faded carcasses which had once been so full of life. There lay the greengrocer, with his old tunic and clown-like shoes, his face void of emotion as he floated eerily across the water; and there lay the washerwoman, her neat curls flat and empty, dull eyes staring at nothing. Most horrifying of all, though, was the thing that floated just a little to the left of the washerwoman. It was a dazzling bracelet of gleaming sapphire pearls, tied together with a small bow. Nala began to scream.

The boy smiled to himself. It had been a long day. David Wood had trapped him in the toilets again. He sighed, tugging his hose from the ants’ nest at his feet and throwing it behind him carelessly. He then bent down into a kneeling position, squinting down at the floor. There was a small puddle of water where ants floated pathetically, their legs sticking out in odd directions. Laughing bitterly, he stood up again and turned to leave. He didn’t care about ants. They didn’t matter; it wasn’t like they had feelings, or even thoughts for that matter.